Lifestyle correction or mid-life crisis? The rise of adventure sports
Getting older can often spark some scary self-reflection. Humans are wired to assess, fight, escape and survive. But in modern societies where 80% of us live in cities, we’re running from different things; information overload, our phones and often the mundanity of everyday life. Do you feel alive?
Amidst this internal questioning, it’s perhaps not surprising that the adventure sports industry is thriving. Sandler Research forecasted the global adventure tourism market will grow 46% from 2016 to 2020. At a national level, Sport England’s Active Lives Survey found that nearly 213,500 more people over the last year have regularly taken part in adventure sports.
Back in 2015, the mid-life middle-class was highlighted as one of the dominant demographics behind the drive, raising the question, is adventure sport the new midlife crisis?0o0
Historically – and stereotypically – the crisis led to attending Glastonbury, a sudden desire to play a musical instrument, contemplating a hair transplant or plastic surgery, revisiting old holiday destinations or splashing out on an expensive bicycle.
The bike comparison is a particularly interesting one – an area where brands have heavily targeted in the past, be it products or services required to physically do it or brands targeting the aspirational lifestyle element.
However, things are gradually changing. According to the Active Lives survey, the proportion of people in the highest socio-economic group (the Office of National Statistics’ NS SEC 1-2 class) taking up adventure sports is increasing whilst it’s decreasing in cycling. This same pattern is also true among 45-64 year olds – particularly those 55-64.
“The ‘mid-life middle-class’ demographic are are more likely to be at a point in their lives where they want to push the boundaries,” Stephen Hill MBE, adventurer and ultra-marathon runner told caytoo. “They’re well established in their careers, have higher disposable incomes and want to challenge themselves physically and mentally, in environments around the world.”
The growing global middle class is a slice of society who can more easily invest in escapism. Combine that with longer life expectancies, ageing relatives and more health conscious communities and you have people ready to embrace the characteristics of adventure. Inspiring images of a non-conformist lifestyle have permeated deep into popular modern culture. This opens up a wealth of opportunities for brands to tap the trailblazers. Perhaps, considering the health benefits, it’s more realistic to call it a healthy lifestyle correction rather than a midlife crisis.
Adventure sports, otherwise known as challenges or expeditions have an exhaustive array of labels including action, adrenaline, lifestyle, trend or alternative. They may be daring in length, have a high level of risk or be in a remote geographical location. Add in an element of competition and you have an extreme sport. Sometimes its the non-competitive aspect (certainly in an immediate side-by-side sense) of adventure activities that can be the most appealing part.
In 2016, Mollie Hughes became the youngest woman ever to summit Mount Everest from both its North and South side. The BBC recently reported that record numbers attempted to climb Mount Everest in the 2017 season.
Hughes, in particular, was inspired by the stories she’d heard from Everest veterans. “For me it all started when I was studying Sports Psychology at Bristol. I wrote my dissertation on the psychology of climbing Everest and interviewed a lot of athletes. That sparked my interest to give it a go.“
“It costs anywhere between £30,000 and £70,000 to climb Everest and I suffered every day climbing the South Side. But for it’s all about pushing personal boundaries and finding the limits of my capabilities. You unlock your potential and I completed it twice.”
Although Hughes is far from middle age, her motivation to do it is the same as that pointed out by Hill and the costs she cites speak to the importance of disposable income.
For many, adventures are also an opportunity to fulfill a social responsibility. Hill raised over £100,000 for charity through his adventures and channels the experience into teaching.
“Through taking part in a wide range of adventure sports over the years,” said Hill, “I am not only challenging myself but I hope to show the children that through self-belief, hard work and determination, anything is possible. I like to think I’m helping to open up the world a little to my classes, planting a small seed of adventurous spirit.”
The growth of new media and technologies is allowing escapism from everyday rituals for all ages, simply by looking at the screen. However, it has successfully blurred the lines between reality and idealism in some places, leaving an area where sense of identity within the everyday is mediated, or in some cases, commodified. Rebellion, therefore, lies within chasing the remote, whilst utilising the constant connection with the outside world to share the adventure.
“Social media is one of the most important platforms for sharing your stories,“ said Hughes. “There is even 3G at the summit of Everest so it’s special to share images and videos with people around the world who’ve shown their support.”
Challenge athlete and race director of Beyond the Ultimate, Kris King, agrees, “Not only has social media made story sharing easier. It has fundamentally changed what we class as normal and achievable. With that, comes greater and greater challenges and in turn, better stories of adversity. That, for the right brand is the perfect combination. A great story paired with a brand ambassador that wants to share it.”
Adventure sports are unlikely to offer the same short-sharp entertainment value as conventional sports like rugby or football. However, we should recognise the power of modern technology to create opportunities for viewer investment. There’s also merit to the duration of more long-distance adventures. Blogs, vlogs and social media break down the wall that previously existed between adventurer and viewer. It generates sustained engagement from audiences following the story.
The forecasted growth of the adventure sports market is an indicator of the potential that lies ahead for brands. Particular opportunities lie within the partnerships and association with individuals or teams pushing new boundaries of adventure. Sponsorship not only relieves their financial burden of equipment and travel but provides an almost limitless opportunity – from the ends of the earth, across the oceans to the top of the world – for global exposure and creative collaborations.
The big question is simply how long it will take brands to push the limits by tapping into those who are increasingly doing the same?
If you’re interested in tapping into the rise of adventure sport, check out our platform of inspiring adventurers.
We’re happy to offer a free consultation on what adventurers are best placed to help champion your business or create unique content to promote your values. Just call the team on 020 3176 8135 or drop us a line to help find your inspiration.
Alex is a co-founder of caytoo, heading up marketing and communications. Prior to this he was an Analyst and VP of Global Communications at Nielsen and founded the successful PR and communications consultancy, Meteor.